Dyeing rivers green has become an American pastime, it seems, especially in Chicago on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day. Since 1962 the Chicago River, which is hardly crystal-clear at the best of times, turns green – not with envy, but with environmentally-friendly dye.
Enjoying those water chestnuts in your order of Cantonese Chow Mein? Hopefully they weren’t picked by the woman above, mired in a polluted river in eastern China. Explosive blooms of green algae often occur in waterways infused with organic sewage and agricultural runoff. Sometimes ‘going green” isn’t such a good thing.
Many rivers look blue naturally but the vivid, sky-blue and turquoise rivers depicted here are the result of various forms of toxic water pollution. Caused mainly by waste water drainage from textile factories and paper mills, blue rivers are a sign of extreme environmental degradation.
Those stone-washed jeans you wear to look natural? They’re probably made to look that way in Mexico and China where unregulated factories pump indigo waste water into local streams and rivers. Traditional fisheries have been wiped out, drinking water supplies have been compromised and irrigation water contaminated with toxic chemicals “nourishes” food crops… but hey, how’re those jeans fitting?
Industrial waste, clothing dyes, ruptured agricultural waste lagoons… all of these and more can turn a river purple – and kill it in the process. If there’s one good thing about rivers changing colors, it’s that the radical visual shift can act as an alarm indicating something is seriously wrong.
Though their colors may be similar, rivers turned purple by pollution and those artificially tinted with dye to support the local football team are vastly different: Fort Worthians can celebrate the TCU Horned Frogs without having to dip into the river for their drinking and washing water.
(images via: Parallel Zero)
Once a river’s gone black, it can rarely go back to its original, clear, life-giving ways. Such is the case in Lago Agrio, located in the Ecuadorian Amazon forest where oil reserves were discovered in the 1960s and exploited by multinational oil companies with little regard for environmental practices. Though the government of Ecuador bears its share of responsibility for the resulting eco-disaster, people on the ground are much more likely to resent foreign big business interests who took the money and ran, so to speak, leaving an awful mess behind.
Across the globe the rivers also run black but the cause isn’t oil exploration, it’s industry that runs ON oil. These blighted rivers in China are closer to open sewers than natural waterways but their toxic load ends up in the same place: a bigger river. One can extrapolate into a future where those bigger rivers are themselves blackened; their sluggish flow dumping poisons into the ocean… which HAS no outlet.
It only seems fitting to end this review of a rainbow of rivers with a river of rainbows, though the latter is hardly a thing of beauty. Oil and water don’t mix, after all, and the shimmering iridescence above only camouflages unseen toxins below.
Another sort of rainbow is formed by flotsam and jetsam: the technicolor trail of trash that in some cases can choke a river to within an inch of its life. Take Indonesia’s Citarum River, if you can stand doing so without holding your nose. This workhorse of a river not only provides millions of people in Jakarta with drinking water, it also takes away their trash and sewage. More than 500 factories line the banks of the 200-mile long Citarum – you do the math. As sad as it seems, the Citarum is a trend-setter of sorts: it shows, graphically, what happens to rivers that are used and abused. Here you’ll find all the colors of the rainbow… but no pot of gold.